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Border Clash Leaves Caravan Migrants Dejected, Worried

Mexican police run as they try to keep migrants from getting past the Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, near San Ysidro, California.
Associated Press
Mexican police run as they try to keep migrants from getting past the Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, near San Ysidro, California.
Mexico To Up Security At Border After Migrants Try To Cross
Mexico To Up Security At Border After Migrants Try To Cross GUESTS: Jean Guerrero, border reporter, KPBS Alex Mensing, project coordinator, Pueblo Sin Fronteras

Our top story on Midday edition. The violence at the Tijuana U.S. border on Sunday is being interpreted by both sides of the immigration debate to support their cause. Supporters of the Trump administration say the group of Central American migrants who tried to enter the U.S. illegally validate the presence heightened security measures. But advocates for human rights are denouncing the use of tear gas lobbed into the crowd from U.S. officials. Mexico's interior ministry says it plans to deport Central American migrants who rush to the border Sunday. No migrants no migrants actually managed to cross the border into the U.S.. PBS border reporter Jean Guerrero was into wannna after about 500 migrants marched toward the border Sunday and she joins me now. Jean welcome to the program. Great to be here. What was behind the decision for the migrants to march to the border yesterday. So it was really disorganized march. There were people among them who had this vision for it to where they were marching to raise awareness about their plight to protest the Trumpy ministrations crackdown on asylum seekers. But then there were a minority among them who really were marching because they wanted to try to get into the United States. And so that's why you saw reports of people storming the border. Most of the people in this group were not intending to storm the border. They were just there to send a message. But then you saw people who were throwing rocks who were scaling the fence to get into the United States and that's when things got ugly. That's when you saw the tear gas being lobbed into the crowd. And children and mothers being affected by that. What a CPB said about why they launched the tear gas canisters. They said that they launched the tear gas because of the projectiles that were being thrown. Like I said you could see rocks. One activist. One of my sources who was there. Jeff Volyn sway last sent me a video from the incident. They're just shooting more tear gas. They just opened fire with rubber bullets. So that was a very chaotic scene and it was visible through various Facebook live videos. Was anyone injured. There we're hearing of two or three people who were hospitalized. No serious injuries as far as I'm aware of yet. There were rumors of more serious injuries yesterday but so far they're just rumors and we've not been able to confirm any of them. So on Friday Tijuana's mayor declared a humanitarian crisis. Describe what you saw at the sports complex where an estimated 5000 Central American migrants are now staying. I went there shortly after the clash at the border and there were people passing around the expired tear gas canisters in anger talking about how this was never the intention to create violence and they come in peace and a lot a lot of angry men you know talking about how this was a very unfair reaction. I spoke to a lot of mothers who said that they're not sure what they're going to do now. They were very very shocked by the clash at the border. One woman told me that she was actually going to go back to Honduras as soon as possible with her two sons that she never imagined that she would arrive at the U.S. border and encounter such a volatile situation that she's scared and she's just going to go back. She never thought it was going to be so hard you sent back some sound from that sports complex let's hear that now. Fighting for right now. The man eating. The. Child eating a doughnut. Now that sports complex was meant to house will seat 2000 people and now 5000 people are there. Yes. Are they expecting more people there they are. And it's really getting out of control for Tijuana. Tijuana has never seen this amount of homeless migrants on the streets. There's talk of thousands more on the way potentially up to 10000 people total who will be on the streets of Tijuana waiting for a chance to seek asylum in the U.S.. And this is just completely straining the resources that Tijuana has. The migrant shelters are at capacity. They turned the sports complex into a makeshift shelter but the conditions are so overcrowded that they're having problems with sanitation. Porta Potties overflowing. Most of the most of the people who are staying there are men and there's been a lot of concern when reporting of a sexual assault that occurred in the facility. And so it's just it's just kind of getting out of control both in terms of resources and then also in terms of the reaction that Tijuana residents are having to the caravan because if you see people walking around with baseball caps that say make Tijuana great again just like you know the whole Trump's slogan Make America Great Again. There's a lot of racism and just in general anger about this group being in Tijuana that we've seen physical and verbal attacks against them and it's just going to keep escalating because of the fact that there's more and more people coming. Speaking of President Trump What's been his reaction to this. So he took to Twitter on Sunday to talk about his displeasure and said that this is just another reason that Mexico needs to work hard to secure the southern border and make sure that Central Americans never come into Mexico in the first place. The problem with that is that there are many legitimate asylum seekers who are trying to get to the United States and it's in Mexico does not have the and the capacity to determine which of these claims are legitimate on its own. Now Mexico says it will deport the 40 or so people in custody for rushing the border yesterday. But those are not the only migrants that they are deporting Are they right. And so Mexico's Interior Ministry said on Sunday that the country has sent 11000 Central Americans back to their country since October 19 and that nearly 2000 of them were from recent caravans So Mexico is deporting Central Americans on a daily basis for the United States. And I spoke to some U.N. human rights representatives who are monitoring the situation in Tijuana and they expressed some real concerns about potentially people being sent back to countries where they will be persecuted and where they should not be sent back because they have legitimate asylum claim. So there are international human rights agencies that are monitoring to try and find some accountability in this situation. And it's really complicated because there's so many law enforcement agencies involved. I've been speaking with PBS border reporter Jean Guerrero. Jeanne thanks. Thank you. As Mexico and the U.S. try to figure out how to handle this crisis on the border Alex Mensing has been working with the migrant advocacy group Pueblo Sin Fronteras. He was there yesterday when tear gas canisters were deployed and joins us now via Skype. Alex thanks for being here. Thanks for having me. I understand you were at the border yesterday monitoring the march that was taking place. Where were you and what did you see. I was actually at the port of entry at the entrance to the Pead west crossing on the Mexican side. And basically what I understand from folks who were accompanying the march as it came towards the port of entry is that three police lines of Mexican federal police blocked off the bridge that crosses now there in Tijuana by the border so that the the group of migrants from the Exodus were unable to take the route that they had planned to take. And so when they came up against that police line some people began going around and started running across the canal to get away. So the federal police and that's when some people and the people didn't even really know where they were going. Some people went into the canal some people went over to the the port of entry itself. And from that point on the work is smaller and larger groups of members of the Exodus who who ran across different points in that area. And Alex what do you think the migrants were hoping to accomplish by running across the victory Well initially the purpose that I understand from listening to their conversations over the last few days is as they talked about having some sort of demonstration was that they wanted to pressure for the United States and Mexico one to provide some sort of solution that is is for everybody but also for the U.S. to respect the right to seek asylum because they have all they all understand now that if you go up to the port of entry and try to exercise your right to seek asylum what U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers will do is they'll tell you there's no space there's no capacity to come back or go put your name down on this list which is now almost 5000 or about 5000 people Hmongs when things got out of control after the police blockade. I think that well actually I know from some of the people who I asked why the why they were running towards the port of entry telling them that they were working to be able to get in and get across that way. People said we want to turn ourselves in. Because they're not letting us in at the port of entry officially when we go up and try to ask for asylum so we want to go get ourselves into the hands of Customs and Border Protection officers so that we can be processed and we've seen groups of migrants from Central America come to the U.S. in the past. I mean there was one migrant group just this past May. But back then we were talking about a couple hundred people. Now we're seeing thousands. What do you think is behind the larger numbers. So I think there's a few things. First of all I think that the word caravan is a complete misnomer for what's going on right now. We've been using the word exodus because from the beginning first of all left straight from Honduras from Central America. And when there have been caravans in the past it's been a small number of people who have actually gathered after having fled Central America on their own and organized in southern Mexico before before moving north. Now this is a group that essentially is responding to two things. One is increased repression and political persecution. And structural violence and gang violence in many many forms of violence in Honduras especially but also in other parts of Central America. So there's an increased push factor from all of the all of the structural violence there but there's also an increased criminalization of militarization of the route that people have to take in order to save their lives. So through not only through Mexico but also at the U.S. Mexico border. It's become more and more dangerous for people and I think that what people have have decided and seen is that the only way for them to protect themselves is not by relying on U.S. authorities it's not by relying on Mexican authorities it's by gathering together and organizing for their own protection. Apparently there's talk of a deal between the Trump administration and the Mexican government to have asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are decided. But reportedly members of the incoming Mexican administration have said there is no such deal. So what do you make of that. And apparently there's talk of a deal between the Trump administration and the Mexican government to have asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are decided. But you know reportedly members of President elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have said there's no such deal. So what do you make of that. Well I hope that that's true because the incoming government in Mexico has stated that it doesn't want to do the U.S. government's dirty work when it comes to anti immigrant repression. And so in order to if the government did set up. Giant refugee camps of people who were being denied access to seek asylum in the United States that would clearly be doing the US's dirty work. So we hope that the incoming government respects what it's said that it will be doing. But we also know it wouldn't be the first time that a politician has promised one thing before coming into office and done something else when they're in office. So so we hope on and on for our part we'll be speaking speaking out for in support of Mexico not doing the U.S. government's dirty work. And for the U.S. to have a more humane response to a refugee crisis that U.S. foreign policy in Central America has played a very heavy hand in creating. Meanwhile more migrants are making their way to Tijuana. Any idea what could happen next. One thing that the Mexican government has done is it's provided a unemployment fair this workfare where people can go look for a job. Some of the members of the Exodus have gone and found Mexican companies that are willing to hire them for the skills that they have. And Mexican immigration has been making an effort to provide regularization of status for the people who have found those jobs. Hopefully the U.S. government stops denying people the right to seek asylum and there are many people who are waiting for their turn to turn selves into U.S. authorities and have their asylum claim heard. But that's not a solution that is not fast enough and it doesn't it doesn't provide equal opportunities for people who are whose family members and children back home in Honduras are facing death threats and are hungry. And so what we're hoping to see is that the members of the Exodus continue to their efforts to self organize and form requests to the international community as well if the U.S. government is not providing a response a solution if the Mexican government is not providing a solution to ask the international community to provide some sort of solution to this refugee crisis. But there's going to continue to be tension as long as the U.S. and Mexican governments treat this in a criminalizing way. Alex Mensing is with the migrant advocacy group Webelos in frontiers. Alex thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

A chaotic border clash with choking tear gas fired by U.S. agents left Central American migrants sullen and dejected, with some opting Monday to leave and others worrying the incident may have spoiled their chances at asylum.

Mexican security forces stepped up their presence at a Tijuana sports complex where thousands from the migrant caravan have been sheltered, apparently seeking to avoid a repeat of Sunday's ugly scene. Police blocked the migrants from walking toward the border in the morning, though later on they allowed them to move about freely.

Isauro Mejia, 46, from Cortes, Honduras, went looking for a cup of coffee to shake the morning chill following another night sleeping outside after being caught up in the clashes. Before, he had hoped to be able to press an asylum claim, but now he wasn't so sure.

"The way things went yesterday ... I think there is no chance," Mejia said. "With the difficulty that has presented itself because of yesterday's incidents ... that's further away."

RELATED: Mexico To Deport Migrants Who Rushed US Border

Migrants hoping to apply for asylum in the United States must put their names on a waiting list that already had some 3,000 people on it before the caravan arrived in Tijuana. With U.S. officials processing fewer than 100 claims a day, the wait time for the recent arrivals stands to take months.

That has instilled a sense of desperation among many after their grueling trek from Central America. Sunday's incident began after hundreds marched to the border to try to call attention to their plight. Some attempted to get through fencing and wire separating the countries, prompting volleys of stinging gas.

Cindy Martinez of San Vicente, El Salvador, said she had been about to cross the concertina wire to the U.S. side when the tear gas was launched. She estimated about 20 people had already passed in front of her, and parents begged agents not to unleash the gas because there were young children present.

"I see it as impossible for them to want to give us asylum," she said. "Because of the words that President Donald Trump has said, I think this is impossible."

Martinez, 28, said she was now considering getting work in Tijuana.

Mexico's National Migration Institute reported that 98 migrants were being deported after trying to breach the U.S. border. The country's Interior Department said about 500 people attempted to rush the border, while U.S. authorities put the number at 1,000.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said 69 migrants who tried to cross illegally were arrested on the California side. He said the Border Patrol's use-of-force policy allows agents to use tear gas and other non-lethal methods, but the incident would be reviewed.

"As the events unfolded, quick, decisive and effective action prevented an extremely dangerous situation," McAleenan said.

Migrant Yanira Elizabeth Rodriguez Martinez said she, her daughter and her sister had stayed away from Sunday's demonstration because they feared it could turn dangerous. Sitting in their makeshift camp at a sports complex Monday, the 38-year-old asked what the process would be if she decided to return to El Salvador.

"Because of (the actions of a few), we all pay," said Romario Aldair Veron Arevalo, a 20-year-old friend sitting with her. He said he still hoped to cross to the United States and work, but conceded it could be more difficult now.

In a rare criticism, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission admonished migrants that they "should respect Mexican laws and not engage in actions that affect the communities they pass through."

"It is important to note that the fact the Mexican government protects their rights does not imply a free pass to break the law," it said.

Mexico Pledges To Beef Up Security After Migrants Rush American Border

RELATED: Mothers In Migrant Caravan Fear Unruly Men Will Ruin Chance At Asylum

Commission official Edgar Corzo Sosa said after visiting the shelter Monday that the space intended for 3,500 is now crowded with more than 5,000 people.

He said officials were receiving more requests from migrants wanting to return to their countries, but did not have a number. He said a beefed-up police presence was for the migrants' safety.

"There is nothing to prevent them from leaving," Corzo said. "They are free to come and go."

The clash also led U.S. authorities to shut down the nation's busiest border crossing at San Ysidro, California, for several hours Sunday.

"Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries," Trump tweeted Monday. "Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!"

Trump has repeatedly suggested without evidence that the migrant caravans are full of hardened criminals, but they appear to be mostly poor people with few belongings fleeing poverty and gang violence.

U.S. and Mexican officials have been wrangling over migration and how to deal with asylum-seekers at the border as Tijuana, a border city of 1.6 million resident struggles to accommodate the crush of migrants.

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office Saturday, declined Monday to comment on the border incident.

Asked about Trump's warning that the U.S. could close the border "permanently" — which would disrupt billions of dollars in trade — Marcelo Ebrard, who is to be Lopez Obrador's foreign relations secretary, said, "Let's hope we can keep that from happening."

RELATED: Incoming Mexico Gov't: No Deal To Host US Asylum-Seekers

Baja California state Gov. Francisco Vega said almost 9,000 migrants were in his state — mostly in Tijuana, with a smaller number in Mexicali — and called it "an issue of national security." Vega issued a public appeal to Mexico's federal government to take over responsibility for sheltering the migrants and deport any who break the law.

Alex Castillo carried a red bedroll slung over his shoulder as he walked away from the Tijuana shelter Monday, saying he would head to the industrial city of Monterrey to look for work and try to cross into the United States next year.

The 35-year-old electrician from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, said he wasn't at the border clash. He heard about it from others and decided to leave "to avoiding getting beaten."

"If they're launching tear gas," Castillo said, "it's better to head somewhere else."